Research Skills

Find guidance to help you meet ethics and equalities requirements if you are preparing to undertake research.

Research ethics

As part of the NHS, Health Scotland must comply with the recognised ethical standards set out by the NHS Health Research Authority for all NHS health related research. NHS Research Ethics Committees (RECs) are convened to provide independent advice on the extent to which proposals for research studies within the NHS comply with these ethical standards.

NHS Health Scotland recognises that all research that engages with people should be done in an ethical way.

It is important to consider ethical issues associated with research and how this informs the project approach or methodology.

  • The NHS Health Research Authority (external link) provides guidance to practitioners wishing to undertake NHS research. Advice is available on how to decide whether your work will require ethical approval, how to prepare and submit an ethical application, as well as news, publications and useful links.
  • The Social Research Association (SRA) Ethics Guidelines (external link) provides guidance on ethical considerations for social research in relation to obligations to individuals, funders/employees, colleagues, subjects and ethical committees.

Equality and diversity

The importance of considering characteristics such as someone’s ethnicity, or socio-economic or marriage/civil partnership status in research cannot be overstated. Research informs policy and programme development which subsequently informs the national actions and policies that emerge.

The more we can take account of experiences and perspectives of people with different characteristics, the more likely that those perspectives are integrated into policy and practice. If these issues and perspectives continue to be missed in research, there is a danger that we continue to reinforce existing inequalities by failing to address discrimination and account for the diversity of experiences and needs in Scotland today.

NHS Health Scotland has a public duty under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations in everything we do.

Researchers have a responsibility to ensure that research not only explores issues of equality and diversity but fully takes account of a the views and experiences of those who may be excluded, particularly minority or seldom heard groups. Therefore it is important to consider issues of equality and inequality throughout the research process. For example:

  • How they can add to our understanding when considering how to approach projects.
  • How decisions about research and its execution could impact on equality. 
  • Consider the implications of sampling and consider the case for over-sampling of under-represented groups.
  • It may be necessary to adapt the research design, paying particular attention to inclusive communication. Research materials should be in Plain English and should be made available in other languages and formats where appropriate.
  • Researchers should consider and mitigate any barriers to participation such as expenses and caring responsibilities.

The Scottish Government website has a wide range of equality-related resources for policy makers and researchers including an equalities evidence finder (external link) and an ethics guidance and sensitivity checklist for social research (external link).   

In addition, researchers are advised to consult the Scottish Public Health Observatory’s (external link) web pages on population groups (external link), pregnancy, birth and maternity (external link), and disability (external link) as these cover the Scottish data available on most of the equality groups under the Equality Act 2010.


NHS Health Scotland is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

If you encounter any issues with the above named publications or external web links, please contact the Research Officer at 

Reviewed 20 April 2016.

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